Ideally mothers should breastfeed their children for the first six months of life, but only a negligible percentage of mothers persist for that duration.
Northern Ireland has both the lowest initial take up of breastfeeding and the poorest duration. According to the Infant Breastfeeding Survey 2005 63% of Northern Ireland mothers began breastfeeding in hospital, compared to 78% in England, 70% in Scotland and 67% in Wales.
At six weeks the rate of exclusive breastfeeding was 22% in England compared to 13% in Northern Ireland. At four months the Northern Ireland rate had fallen to 4% compared to 8% in England.
However a clinical trial of the programme devised by Ulster researchers – called Designer Breastfeeding - showed that dramatic improvements are possible.
A total of 144 women who had their first baby took part in the trial at the Ulster Hospital maternity unit. They were split into two groups – one taking part in the Designer Breastfeeding programme and the other using the normal support services of the “Baby-Friendly” maternity unit.
The results showed that 82% of those taking part in the new programme began breastfeeding, compared to 70% in the other group. On discharge from hospital 64% of those on the programme were still breastfeeding exclusively compared to 44% in the other group and at three weeks the figures were 53% and 20% respectively.
The Designer Breastfeeding programme – which was devised after five years of research funded by the Northern Ireland Research and Development Office – consists of four parts:A breastfeeding book covering all aspects of breastfeeding instruction.
Researcher Professor Marlene Sinclair, Professor of Midwifery Research at Ulster, said: “Designer Breastfeeding is an unique, home-grown breastfeeding programme that closes the gap between what women want to know about breastfeeding and what health professionals think they need to know.
"Using existing NHS structures, Designer Breastfeeding takes a 360 degree approach to increasing women’s commitment to breastfeeding by providing them with what they need to take control over their individual experience”.
She pointed out that while the percentage of mothers who begin breastfeeding in hospital continues to rise, around a fifth will stop breastfeeding before they leave hospital.
Professor Sinclair added: “We know the preventative health benefits of breastfeeding are dose-related and the longer a mother breastfeeds, the better it is for her health and the health of her baby. Therefore, helping women find the motivation to breastfeeding has immense potential for health gains that will directly impact on the mother and baby and, indirectly, on the overall health of the nation”.
“I have no doubt that we will see the further success of Designer Breastfeeding evidenced through visible reductions in the incidence of childhood infections, obesity, diabetes, eczema and asthma. It is a great pleasure to be recommending this home-grown research undertaken by a local midwife, Dr Janine Stockdale for dissemination and implementation.”
David Young | alfa
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